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Tick Diseases in Cats: Know the Risks

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Tick-borne diseases that can affect cats.
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Though many people think of ticks as a dog problem, cats that spend time outdoors can also encounter ticks and contract tick-transmitted diseases. Even indoor cats can come in contact with ticks brought in by people or other pets. Here’s what you need to know about the diseases ticks can carry and pass on to cats.

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A tick embedded in a cat’s skin.

Tick-transmitted Diseases in Cats


Bobcat Fever (Cytauxzoonosis) in Cats

Because tick bites don’t usually hurt, your cat may not show any obvious signs of ticks. But just one bite from the wrong tick could infect your cat with a fatal disease called cytauxzoonosis, or bobcat fever. Transmitted by the Lone Star tick, bobcat fever is a cat-specific infection that affects the cat’s blood cells and circulatory system. It is considered the most serious tick disease for cats by far.

Symptoms of bobcat fever include:

  • Severe fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite or anorexia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Jaundice, or yellow discoloration of the cat’s gums and tissues

Bobcat fever can lead to severe illness involving multiple organ systems, which can progress into coma and even death. Cats can survive with treatment, but even with aggressive medical care, bobcat fever is usually fatal within one week of the first signs of symptoms.1

Lyme Disease in Cats

Perhaps the most well-known tick-borne disease, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection more common in people and dogs, though cats can be affected.

Cats may not show any symptoms of Lyme disease, but keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Painful joints and/or stiffness and an arched back when walking
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite

Ehrlichiosis in Cats

Ehrlichiosis is a tick-transmitted bacterial disease that’s more common in dogs than cats, though cats are not immune to it.

In cats, ehrlichiosis can cause symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

Anaplasmosis in Cats

Anaplasmosis is another bacterial infection ticks can transmit to cats. Anaplasmosis is mainly found in the Northeast, and infections are most common during May, June and October. It typically takes 24 to 48 hours of attachment for the tick to transmit anaplasmosis to the cat.2

Symptoms of anaplasmosis in cats include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite or anorexia
  • Fever

Other Tick-related Concerns in Cats

If your cat experiences a large tick infestation, they could develop anemia (too few red blood cells). Tick bites on cats can also become infected, causing swelling, pain and complications related to bacterial infection.

Many tick-disease symptoms could indicate other health issues, so it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian when your cat’s health is in question — especially if you haven’t been able to find a tick on your cat.

How to Prevent Ticks on Cats

Ticks can transmit many dangerous diseases to cats. Luckily, using long-lasting, easy-to-apply preventive products can help protect your cat from ticks. Look for one that kills and repels ticks through contact; if a tick is repelled, it cannot bite and transmit diseases in the first place.

References

Bondy PJ, Cohn LA, Kerl ME. (2005). Feline Cytauxzoonosis. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet. 27(1):69-75.

Ewing, Patty J. “Feline Anaplasmosis • MSPCA-Angell.” MSPCA, www.mspca.org/angell_services/feline-anaplasmosis/.

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